Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn

An alluring blend of cultures, genres and styles

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Sheslow Auditorium

Des Moines, Iowa

Fri, Nov 11, 2022

7:30 PM

Regular Tickets

Prices $35 – $65

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Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn

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At extraordinary times...we realize that the world is smaller than we think. We’re also reminded how music connects us intimately, wherever we come from.

The Guardian

About the show

Feel the connective power of music with this alluring blend of cultures, genres and styles. This captivating Chinese-bluegrass folk duo blends English and Mandarin, banjo and Chinese zither, and American and Chinese folksong. GRAMMY-winning Washburn and guzheng virtuoso Fei will transport their audience to the hills of Appalachia and the prairies of Xinjian province during their Des Moines debut!


Wu Fei

Wu Fei is a classically trained composer, singer and master of the guzheng, the 21-string Chinese zither. She has performed around the world at venues including the Forbidden City, New York’s MoMA, Paris’ Quai Branly Museum, the North Sea Jazz Festival, Vossa Jazz, the Europalia Festival and the Big Ears Festival in Tennessee.

She plays in the guzheng’s vernacular — a musical language at least 2,500 years old – mixing Western classical and Chinese traditions with a contemporary, idiosyncratic sound. Wucomposes for choir, string quartet, chamber ensemble, Balinese gamelan and orchestra. Her chamber orchestral work “Hello Gold Mountain,” inspired by the stories of Jewish refugees who fled to Shanghai from Europe in World War II, earned a MAP Fund award.

Wu has collaborated with artists from different disciplines and genres, including Emmy-winning directors Pierce Freelon and Jon Halperin, Grammy-winning musicians Béla Fleck, Abigail Washburn and Billy Martin (Medeski-Martin-Wood) and composers John Zorn and Fred Frith. She has released two solo recordings and two collaborative albums – one with classical guitarist Gyan Riley and the other with singer-songwriter Abigail Washburn.

Wu studied at the China Conservatory of Music and Mills College. A native of Beijing, she currently lives in Nashville.

Wu Fei


Abigail Washburn

If American old-time music is about taking earlier, simpler ways of life and music-making as one’s model, Abigail Washburn has proven herself to be a bracing revelation to that tradition. She — a singing, songwriting, Illinois-born, Nashville-based clawhammer banjo player — is every bit as interested in the present and the future as she is in the past, and every bit as attuned to the global as she is to the local. Abigail pairs venerable folk elements with far-flung sounds, and the results feel both strangely familiar and unlike anything anybody’s ever heard before.

One fateful day 16 years ago, Washburn was miraculously offered a record deal in the halls of a bluegrass convention in Kentucky which changed her trajectory from becoming a lawyer in China to a traveling folk musician. Since then, Abigail has been recording and touring a continuous stream of music. Her music ranges from the “all-g’earl” string band sound of Uncle Earl to her bi-lingual solo release Song of the Traveling Daughter (2005), to the mind-bending “chamber roots” sound of the Sparrow Quartet, to the rhythms, sounds and stories of Afterquake, her fundraiser CD for the Sichuan earthquake victims. The New York Times praised her 2011 release, City of Refuge, written with collaborator Kai Welch, saying the the songs “mingle Appalachia and folk-pop, with tinges of Asia and Bruce Springsteen.” As a duo with her husband — 15-time Grammy award winning banjo virtuoso, Béla Fleck — Abigail has recorded two albums: a self-titled debut that earned the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk Album and Echo in the Valley (Rounder 2017). Her most recent record is a self-titled debut collaboration with composer and guzheng virtuoso, Wu Fei, and sonically blends traditional Chinese and Appalachian folk tunes (Smithsonian Folkways 2020).

Having toured the world, Washburn is also armed with Chinese language ability and profound connections to culture and people on the other side of the Pacific. Washburn is one of the few foreign artists currently touring China independently and regularly. She completed a month-long tour (Nov-Dec 2011) of China’s Silk Road supported by grants from the US Embassy, Beijing. Abigail, along with 24 other innovative and creative thinkers worldwide, was named a TED fellow and gave a talk at the 2012 TED Convention in Long Beach about building US-China relations through music. In March of 2013, she was commissioned by New York Voices and the NY Public Theater to write and debut a theatrical work titled Post-American Girl, which draws from her 17-year relationship with China and addresses themes of expanding identity, cultural relativism, pilgrimage, the universal appeal of music and opening the heart big enough to fold it all in. Abigail was recently named the first US-China Fellow at Vanderbilt University and is an Andrew W. Mellon DisTIL Fellow at Carolina Performing Arts at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her efforts to share US music in China and Chinese music in the US exist within a hope that cultural understanding and the communal experience of beauty and sound rooted in tradition will lead the way to a richer existence.

Abigail Washburn

Practical information


2 hours

Where is the concert happening?

This concert will happen at Sheslow Auditorium, a beautiful recital hall with 776 seats located on Drake University’s campus, just west of the Varsity Theater on 25th Street. Sheslow is physically joined to Old Main, with Sheslow located at the north end of the structure. Entrances are located on the east and west sides of the building.

Where should I park?

Free parking is available on the adjacent streets, and in the large parking lot immediately to the northeast of Sheslow at the corner of Carpenter and 25th St.

Valet parking will be available for $20.

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